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BCG Reading List 2021

Books Recommended by Business Leaders

As we start to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the world can begin to look to the future with increased optimism. Our 2021 reading list reflects that forward-thinking mentality while also offering reads that encourage reflection on the tumultuous past year. BCG’s experts have made book recommendations that cover topics from climate and sustainability to digital transformation to pandemic response, and more. Whether you are a CEO or a student, we hope you are captivated and inspired by these recommended books to read from BCGers from around the world:

Competing in the Age of AI: Strategy and Leadership When Algorithms and Networks Run the World

Digital Transformation | “The authors claim that AI is changing processes and replacing some human activities—which is almost obvious—but it is also changing how the whole company operates, as evidenced by the example of digital natives. It creates an opportunity and a need for a new way of architecting companies with data and AI as a completely shared platform. It is actually quite close to our narrative on bionic companies and illustrated with various interesting (although classical) stories.”

Lionel Aré
Managing Director & Senior Partner, DigitalBCG

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story

Pandemic Response | “This is a narrative of the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. It brings to life the stories of some of the unsung heroes of the early response as well as the tragic missteps. It is critical that we reflect deeply on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 response to inform future pandemic preparedness. This book is a great start.”

Emily Serazin
Managing Director & Partner

The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

Leadership | “This gripping and timely biography about Jennifer Doudna, who, along with Emmanuelle Charpentier, shared the 2020 Chemistry Nobel Prize for their work in CRISPR gene editing, dives into some of the most pressing scientific and ethical challenges of our time. It’s also a story about successful collaboration and teaming and how building on shared interests, camaraderie, and competition enabled tremendous breakthroughs to occur.”

Allison Bailey
Managing Director & Senior Partner; Global Leader, People & Organization Practice

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

Digital Transformation | “This book gives the most insightful story of the coming of the information age—from the first algorithms on mechanical calculus machines to the internet—what were the breakthroughs that made that possible, who won, and why? A must-read to understand the past and shape the future.”

Antoine Gourevitch
Managing Director & Senior Partner

The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion | “A fundamental goal of much diversity, equity, and inclusion work is to ensure that there is fairness in opportunity, regardless of an individual’s identity. With this often comes an underlying assumption that a fair contest will produce fair outcomes, and therefore all can succeed based upon their individual merits. In examining this meritocratic ideal, Michael Sandel makes a compelling case that, in practice, our innate talents, upbringing, affluence, and other influencing factors mean that not everyone has an equal chance to win the race. What’s more, this rhetoric of rising has resulted in hubris among the winners and humiliation among those who lose—a dynamic that has manifested in the social and political tensions we face today.”

Gabrielle Novacek
Managing Director & Partner

Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps: Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations

Digital Transformation | “A deep dive into how good technology management directly impacts overall company performance. Over time, every company needs to turn into a tech company, and how to manage the quality and speed of software delivery must be on the mind of every CEO. This book shows what matters most in a pragmatic and well-documented way.”

Stefan Gross-Selbeck
Global Managing Partner of BCGDV, Senior Partner BCGDV

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

Climate & Sustainability |“How to Avoid a Climate Disaster offers nothing groundbreaking for those involved in climate work, but a few things stood out to me while reading. It’s an easy and accessible read with relatable examples and analogies that help visualize scale—great for someone new to the topic seeking to understand the key issues. It also lays out some plausible pathways for reflection.”

Dave Sivaprasad
Managing Director & Partner

How the U.S. Pandemic Response Went Wrong—and What Went Right—during a Year of COVID

Pandemic Response | "The COVID year in review from Scientific American is quite good. They have extensive COVID coverage with good articles, so it may lead people to explore other things. It is balanced, well-researched, and nonpartisan work for the most part."

Marin Gjaja
Managing Director & Senior Partner

Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility

Digital Transformation | “This book is the originator of quite a few Chinese internet and new giants’ behavior-based culture designs.”

Fang Ruan
Managing Director & Partner

The Imagination Machine: How to Spark New Ideas and Create Your Company’s Future

Resilience | “Many great businesses were founded on an act of imagination, bringing some new possibility to the world. But business now needs imagination more than ever—to reinvent itself at a time when competitive advantage decays faster than ever, to respond to the imminent substitution of many routine managerial tasks by AI, and to address complex societal challenges. The Imagination Machine explores what this mysterious capacity is, how it works, and how it can be systematically harnessed by organizations seeking to rejuvenate themselves. It lays out an agenda for embracing technology while rehumanizing businesses by leveraging this unique human capability.”

Martin Reeves, Co-Author of The Imagination Machine
Managing Director & Senior Partner, Chairman of the BCG Henderson Institute

Jack Fuller, Co-Author of The Imagination Machine
Founder & CEO, Casati Health, BCG New York 2016–2021

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

Climate & Sustainability | "Enlightenment Now is a great reminder of what humanity can do if we never stop improving every day. The world is not perfect today, and there are many areas in which we fail; this book is a clear call to action for us to keep trying instead of giving up on what we have already achieved.”

Claus Helbing
Managing Director, BCG Platinion

What We Know About Climate Change

Climate & Sustainability | “Written by an award-winning atmospheric scientist, What We Know About Climate Change is a scientific, yet accessible, book about climate change. In just over 100 pages, Kerry Emmanuel explains what science knows and does not know, how we can determine humanity’s influence on climate change, and what the solutions are.”

Charlotte Degot
Partner, BCG GAMMA

The Technology Trap: Capital, Labor, and Power in the Age of Automation

Digital Transformation | “I really like history, but what does history have to offer to the way digital and AI is transforming our lives now and in the future? A lot, as demonstrated in The Technology Trap by Carl Benedikt Frey. The book contains many examples of technological progress from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution, all of which offer important lessons for better managing the present age of digital and AI.”

Stefan Mohr
Managing Director & Senior Partner, DigitalBCG

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel

Leadership | "Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story clearly outlined the power of narrative when conveying meaning to humans. In her new book, Story Genius, Cron explores how to create that compelling narrative based on our brain wiring. Strategy is nothing if people can’t hear it. This book is an exceptional guide to writing in a powerful way that sells ideas, strategy, and solutions and creates real engagement."

Ashley Grice
Brighthouse CEO & Managing Director

Exponential Organizations: Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours (and what to do about it)

Digital Transformation | “The Why? Because most digital transformation efforts have focused on the technological aspect and underestimated the operating model revolution required—we've learned to scale technology, and now it's time to scale the organization. This book describes how 21st-century organizations can be ten times better, faster, and cheaper by moving away from asset and hierarchy-heavy setups. A mind-stretching and refreshing perspective.”

Vinciane Beauchene
Managing Director & Partner

Books By BCG Alumni

Finding Zen in the Ordinary: Stories and Reflections

Chris Keevil
Managing Director, Wellspring Consulting, BCG Boston 1990–2001

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